Wednesday, 28 April 2010

UK & EU: Justice issues in Europe (Introduction)

One of the relatively rare assessments of Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) in the European Union published after the Stockholm Programme and before the adoption of the implementing Action Plan is:

UK House of Commons Justice Committee: Justice issues in Europe (HC 162-I; published 6 April 2010; 60 pages)

In this blog post we summarise the Introduction.


The Committee Report is the result of a fairly detailed (page 5):

…inquiry into justice issues in Europe with a particular focus on developments and the implications for the 2.2 million British citizens living in other member states and 2.12 million people living in the UK who were born in another member state.

The Report briefly recapitulates the history of the EU’s area of freedom, security and justice (FSJ): the Treaty of Amsterdam, the Tampere Programme and the Hague Programme (page 5).

The Report describes the area of freedom, security and justice as still very much a “work in progress”, before embarking on an outline on the future work to be done under the Stockholm Programme (page 6).

The Committee notes that mutual trust is fairly easy to grasp, but hard to achieve in the field of legislation and policy on justice (page 6).

Box 1 on pages 8 and 9 contains a convenient overview of justice priorities in the Stockholm Programme, under the following headlines:

• Promoting citizenship and fundamental rights
• A Europe of law and justice
• A Europe that protects
• Improving the quality of legislation and its implementation

With the establishment of mutual trust as a cornerstone of judicial cooperation and the fundamental rights of EU (and UK) citizens as starting points, the Committee chose the following key themes for its inquiry (page 9):

• The need to strike balances between proportionality, the rights of suspects and the accused in criminal proceedings, and the enforcement of security at EU and national level through mutual co-operation.
• The balance between basic principles of justice and fairness for victims and the rights of suspects and defendants rights and levels of awareness of those rights
• The cost-benefits of activity to create an area of freedom, security and justice
• The extent of monitoring and evaluation and the relative lack of enforcement.

The emphasis is on criminal justice issues (page 9).

The Committee starts its treatment of the Lisbon Treaty with a short historic overview from the Treaty of Amsterdam, before a summary of the changes brought about by the Treaty of Lisbon and the UK opt-in protocol, as well as a description of the emergency brake (pages 10 to 12).

The extended jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) is explained on page 12. It remains unclear if Britain will opt in to the jurisdiction of the CJEU within the five year timeframe (page 17).

The Committee describes the legal entry into force of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and mentions that the European Union aims to accede to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (page 12 to 13).

Will the Lisbon Treaty facilitate legislation and policy-making in the field of justice? The initial response of the Committee is cautious (page 13 to 14).

Naturally, the extraordinary position of the United Kingdom has to be discussed. The Committee argues that the position of UK participation has become more flexible, but clarifications are needed with respect to amendments Britain opposes, although it has consented to the original provisions. The Committee depicts the UK’s role in EU justice and home affairs as a key one (page 14 to 16).

The Committee welcomed the Government’s pragmatic attitude (evidence-based practical measures; “look before you legislate”) and it was encouraged by seeing this perspective reflected in the Stockholm Programme (page 16).

The Committee notes that mutual recognition is at the heart of what the EU is trying to achieve in the area of freedom, security and justice under the Stockholm programme and the Lisbon Treaty. The Government of Britain is extremely cautious about approximation (harmonisation) of criminal law, but the Committee remarks that the proposals in the Stockholm Programme and the Lisbon Treaty together give rise to the potential for a significant body of new law (pages 17 and 18).

Ralf Grahn

P.S. Information about materials from different member states and in various EU languages on the Stockholm Programme and the proposed Action Plan for implementation is most welcome. Write a comment or send me an e-mail about unofficial and official publications